City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty expressed her disdain Wednesday for the the Oregon Department of Transportation's practice of dumping boulders in areas of Portland to dispel homeless campers.
She hyperlinked a Youtube video of herself standing in front of a boulder-filled patch of land in Northeast Portland along 81st Avenue, right across from a nonprofit that provides the houseless with resources—chastising ODOT's use of funds for blocking access for campers.
"I am outraged that we are using public money to displace people that we cannot provide housing for," Hardesty says in the video. "They are displacing people who have nowhere to go, so of course that means the neighbors start complaining that they have houseless people outside their community."
ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton says the boulders are intended to keep people from living too close to interstate highway traffic. He cited the death of a person crossing Interstate 205 earlier this week as an example of the danger.
"It's all about safety," Hamilton says. "We have to make sure that we keep people away from the highway right of way, where it's inherently dangerous. That's why we've taken this much more aggressive step to keep people from camping these areas. Because it's dangerous."
ODOT has dotted the city with these boulder-filled spaces, and have now placed boulders in at least six places, including two locations on the west side of the river and four locations on the east side. The latest boulder drop took place in the Goose Hollow neighborhood in Southwest Portland.
Since the city's houseless situation was declared an emergency crisis in 2015, the city has struggled with how to pacify residents who don't want homeless camps near their homes, while also avoiding criticism of harsh "sweeps" of those camps.
In late 2018, the Oregon Legislature passed a law allowing local police officers to perform sweeps along state-owned highways and overpasses.
Certain neighborhoods have taken matters into their own hands, like the Montavilla Initiative group in Southeast Portland, which have performed walk-throughs of homeless encampments and have been accused of harassing the houseless.
But the boulders are the latest flashpoint.
"ODOT is spending limited resources to drop boulders that push the most vulnerable into impossible conditions," Hardesty's tweet read. "Is this how you want your transportation $ spent?"
In the video Hardesty challenges ODOT to re-think how it addresses the city's homeless population, telling the agency to consider providing tents or tiny houses.